313 - Powerful Parables (Ezekiel 15–17)
Those who do not grasp the justice of God think they can get away with their sin. They see no reason to repent. We can rejoice in God’s mercy and grace, but we should never ignore or downplay His justice. This is the lesson of Ezekiel chapters 15–17.
I can still remember that afternoon my father came home with a most unusual gift. A boat had docked there in Norfolk, Virginia, where my parents served as missionaries to the military. My father had been given a stalk of bananas. I had never seen anything like it; it was probably three to four feet tall. My father hung it downstairs in the basement of our home where it was cool and told me to leave it be until later on.
One of my childhood friends, another missionary kid, came over that afternoon, and I showed him the stalk hanging from a pole my father had rigged up in the basement. We decided it would be okay to eat one of them—and then another, and then another. But what should we do with the peels now, so we wouldn’t get caught? We dropped them behind the old piano down there in the basement where I spent many hours practicing. No one would ever know.
Many years later, when my parents moved, they were puzzled by all those dried-up banana peels they found behind the piano. I was grown and married by then, but I immediately remembered and told them what had happened. My mother remembered something too. She said, “Well, that explains it. I always wondered why that night after supper, even though you loved banana pudding, you didn’t want any dessert—not one bite.”
Well, sin has a way of finally being exposed. The Bible says, “[You can] be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
The people of Israel were a privileged people. God had provided for them a fruitful land and the blessing of His presence and protection. But their privileges did not mean they could sin without being held accountable. One author put it this way: “Privilege brings responsibility, and responsibility brings accountability.”
Now in chapters 15 to 17 the Lord is hammering home the truth that Jerusalem will fall, the people of Judah will go into exile, and the hope the exiles in Babylon were putting in Jerusalem’s survival, will be dashed. The banana peels, so to speak, have been discovered.
God makes His point by giving the prophet Ezekiel three parables to preach to the people. First, is what we’ll call the parable of the worthless vine in chapter 15.
It erases any thought that the Lord is going to withhold judgment on Judah and Jerusalem just because they are His people. In verse 2 the Lord asks, “How does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest?” The answer is obvious—it doesn’t. A vine is not nearly as valuable as other wood. You can’t build furniture or a house with little, spindly vines. A vine is good only for producing fruit—and a vine that is not producing fruit is used for fueling the fire.
So far, the people still living in Judah have escaped the fire twice, when the Babylonians came and took a number of captives in 605 BC and then again in 597. But they will not escape the Babylonians’ third invasion. Jerusalem and the temple will be burned to the ground. The people have not produced spiritual fruit, so to speak, so the Lord says, “The fire shall yet consume them … And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly” (verses 7-8).
If anybody is thinking this is a little harsh, the extent of their sin is described in the parable of the unfaithful wife in Ezekiel 16. Here the Lord pictures Jerusalem—that is, the people of the city—as a woman. She started out as an unwanted baby girl whom God rescued, cared for, and raised (verses 3-7). In verse 8 the Lord speaks:
“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you . . . I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you . . . and you became mine.”
This is the picture of a marriage covenant. God was like a husband to the Jewish nation.
But now there’s a sudden shift at verse 15, where we read these sad words: “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown.” She turned her back on the Lord and went after other gods like an unfaithful wife going after other men.
She built pagan shrines to other gods (verse 16); she made idols and presented offerings to them (verses 17-19). She even sacrificed children to these false gods (verses 20-21). Furthermore, she sought protection from other nations, instead of from God (verses 26-30).
All this describes what actually happened through the centuries. Despite the appeals of God’s true prophets, Jerusalem fell deeper and deeper into idolatry. He delivers this stinging rebuke in verse 52 that Jerusalem’s spiritual unfaithfulness made the sexual immorality of Samaria and Sodom look righteous.
That’s like someone saying to you, “Your life is so wicked, you make Adolph Hitler look good!” This is a shocking condemnation of Jerusalem’s spiritual unfaithfulness and sexual immorality.
Q3 – Maybe not Hitler-like, but how honest have you or someone else been with you about your sinful lifestyle? How did you receive that news? What motivated you to turn back toward the Lord?
Now as bad as it was—and as sinful as they were—the final verses of this chapter present a promise of future restoration. This promise looks ahead to the future millennial reign of Christ, when THE repentant NATION AND Jerusalem will be restored, and the Lord will establish an “everlasting covenant” with His people, according to verse 60.
For the present day, however, Ezekiel goes back to his parables of God’s imminent judgment upon Jerusalem. This third parable, in chapter 17, is what we’ll call the parable of the two eagles.
In this parable given to Ezekiel, a great eagle removes the top of a cedar tree and takes it to a thriving city and plants it there. It then takes some seed and plants it in a place where it grows into a healthy vine. At this point another eagle appears, and it is drawn to the vine, which wants to be watered by this second eagle.
This parable is called a riddle in verse 2, and it certainly is hard to understand without some kind of explanation. And God explains it, beginning here in verse 11. The first eagle is the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. The treetop is Judah’s King Jehoiachin, who is removed and taken to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar replaces Jehoiachin as Judah’s king with Zedekiah. He allows Zedekiah and the remaining people in Judah to survive, so long as they pay tribute to Babylon.
The second eagle represents Egypt, to whom Zedekiah appeals for help in rebelling against Babylon. Now as Ezekiel is writing this, Zedekiah has not rebelled yet, but he will. And the Lord declares what will happen as a result: “In Babylon he [Zedekiah] shall die. Pharaoh with his mighty army . . . will not help him in war” (verses 16-17). He adds in verse 21,“His troops shall fall by the sword, and the survivors shall be scattered to every wind.”
Now, even after delivering this tragic prophecy of judgment coming soon on Judah, there’s a message of future hope:
Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar.”(verses 22-23)
This refers to the day when Jesus Christ, the Messiah, returns to rule over all the earth.
These chapters in Ezekiel are warning us to this day not to sin against God’s word. His word always comes to pass. It might look like those banana peels will not be discovered, but they will. Confess your sins to Christ, your coming King, and live for Him today.
 The title is taken from Elizabeth Bagwell Ficken, That You May Know the Lord (W & E Publishing, 2016).
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